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The Kookaburra – Both a “Zoo Bird” and Surprisingly Common Pet

Laughing KookaburraIn years past the maniacal call of the Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo novaeguineae, was often used as a backdrop for movies set in “the African jungle”…despite the fact that the bird dwells in dry, open woodlands, and even cities, in Australia.  I had always been fascinated by our own Belted Kingfisher, and longed to meet this largest member of the Kingfisher Family (Alcedinidae) in person.  I was surprised when my chance came well before I began working in zoos – on a visit to a private bird-keeper near NYC!

Not So Wild After All

It seems that Laughing Kookaburras are well-established in private aviculture in the USA, and not that hard to come by.  This makes sense – they are impressive, interesting birds that tame easily – but it first came as a surprise to me as they seem so “wild”.

But it turns out that they are not all that “wild” after all…in their native Australia, suburban Kookaburras often swipe sizzling-hot meat from barbeque grills!  A few albinos have even turned up, and a relative, the gorgeous Blue-Winged Kookaburra, Dacelo leachi, is also occasionally offered for sale.

Keeping Kookaburras

I cared for a pair of Laughing Kookaburras for some years, and found them to be most delightful and interesting.  They became quite docile, were eager to feed from the hand, and always greeted me with a scaled-down laugh – a “chuckle”, if you will – when I arrived.

While usually reserved for announcing their territory, Kookaburras also give their trademark call when excited.  When I wanted the Kookaburras to perform for visitors, I had merely to show them a treat and then make a show of walking away with it…or, worse yet, offering to their neighbor, a cantankerous Cassowary (they did indeed seem jealous!).

Both would cock their heads at me in that most beguiling way they have, and then let loose with a barrage of hysterical calls.  Kookaburras perch very upright and with chests “puffed out”, as do all kingfishers, but my pair seemed to sit even “prouder” when they had “forced” me to part with a few mice (their favorite).


Blue-winged Kookaburra

My Kookaburras lived well into their 20’s on a diet comprised of mice, earthworms, locusts, chicks, hard-boiled eggs, fish and crayfishes.  Wild Kookaburras also take snakes, lizards and frogs.  Many keepers provide raw meat or commercial Bird-of-Prey Diet, but whole animals are preferable foods by far.


I feel that Laughing Kookaburras are well-worth your time if you can properly provide for them.  Despite their fine points, however, Kookaburras are not for everyone.  They stand almost 20 inches high and have a broad wingspan…no indoor parrot cages for these brutes!

Height – 15 feet or more – is especially important in their aviary…like all kingfishers, Kookaburras hunt by plunging down on their prey from above.  And their calls, which carry very far, are a force to be reckoned with.

Some Natural History

The 4 Kookaburra species (the taxonomy of a 5th is in question) are classified as “Forest Kingfishers”, and placed within the subfamily Daceloninae.  The common name is derived from the Wiradjuri People’s term for their unique call.

Unlike their relatives, most Kookaburras frequent dry habitats.  The Laughing Kookaburra is much loved in its native eastern Australia, and has been introduced to southwestern Australia, Tasmania and Kawau Island (New Zealand).

Further Reading

Kookaburra Natural History (National Zoological Park).

Video: tame Kookaburra laughing it up  


Laughing Kookaburra image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Richard Taylor


  1. avatar
    why do kookaburras lose their tail feathers we have them in care

    I wish to know why kookaburras lose their tail feathers, is it diet of a disease

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the interesting post. I haven’t run across loss of only tail feathers in kookaburras. It does occur in other birds – pigeons, house sparrows, parrots in my experience. Dietary causes have been proposed – calcium in particular – but I’ve not seen any definitive research. Kookaburras under my care have always done well with mice as a regular part of the diet, along with insects (roaches, crickets, etc) that were themselves fed a high calcium diet, so I’ve not really seen the effects of calcium deficiencies.

    The tail feathers of many birds dislodge more easily that do body feathers, as a predator escape mechanism – could trauma (perching against screening, aggression) be involved?

    I’m not aware of any diseases where feather loss is restricted to the tail.

    Please keep me posted…I’ll search further as well.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    You say they are common pets in the USA but I can’t find any for sale! Does anyone know where to go to buy a kookaburra and what the price range is? As an aside I’m looking for a Vitoria crowned pigeon as well. Methinks me lives on the wrong continent lol!

  4. avatar

    Hello Valerie, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest. Kookaburras and various pigeons are listed on both Softbills for Sale and BirdsExpress (I’ve not checked current lists). Last year prices averaged $700-$900, more for unique color phases.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    I have been working with a laughing kookaburra who is an animal ambassador at a local zoo. He’s been a lot of fun but lately has started biting. He’s about 3 years old – could this be sexual maturity behavior?? Not sure what to make of it….

  6. avatar

    Hello Sue,

    Thanks for your interest. Kookaburras are a great choice for that. What zoo are you with.

    They reach sexual maturity at 12-14 months of age, but hormones do not always kick in on schedule in captivity, or if a female is not present. I’ve noticed that they and pother birds, reptiles sometimes exhibit breeding behavior at irregular intervals.

    Paired males I’ve kept (in exhibits) definitely seemed bolder, re keepers, during the breeding season, so hormones and such could be causing the behavior.

    Those that came forward and fed from the hand also seemed to “predict” treats and our own behavior very quickly – calling out when we approached with a bag, but not with empty hands, etc. Much like parrots, they probably learn that biting will lead to certain rewards – being left alone, or being given a snack. Maybe (if breeding behavior is not involved) tossing him small treats at regular intervals, before the biting starts, might be useful?

    Sorry I could not be more specific; if you have other info that might be helpful, please let me know. I’m interested to hear how this works out also, thanks.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    I live in Leona Tex. Recently while in a wooded area I heard the unmistakable call of a kookaburra, and I know because having resided in Perth WA. I would buy half a lamb, tie it to my yard fence and enjoy the show as scores of the birds fought over it. I soothed complaining neighbors with a few beer bashes. Ta mate

  8. avatar

    Great story, thanks! I’ve often fantasized about being able to see such things close to home; I need to get to Australia. Kookaburras will likely do fine in Texas, I wonder if It’s a single bird or if a few have managed to get loose. Did kookaburras come to carcasses in WA?…any reptiles?

    Best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Really pleased to find someone who knows about Kookaburras. I have a 2yr old male who is quite the most charming housebird one could hope for, not only gentle with me, but extremely tolerant of the rescued rooks we have coming and going around here [see videos on website]. We are in the UK and would love to hear from any other kookaburra people.
    Can you give me some advice on beak trimming? Dizzy’s beak seemed to be going slightly crossed, so I trimmed a very small amount from the upper mandible, but I’m still not sure if it’s ok.

  10. avatar

    Hi Jo,

    Thanks for the most interesting comment and link; glad to see you are doing such useful work with rooks.

    I’ve found that a dremel is good for trimming thick beaks (useful for turtles as well); however, the noise and vibrations can startle animals, and as it’s rotating so quickly, a small slip can create quite an over-trim. best to have a vet or experienced person do this, if you have not.

    Given your interest in rooks, you might enjoy these articles of learning behavior in related birds:

    Japanese crows


    New Caladonian Crows

    Enjoy and please keep me posted, Frank

  11. avatar

    After Frank had suggested a dremel, I got in touch with an expert on corvid beak trimming, who suggested a battery operated nail file. This has worked brilliantly, and Dizzy doesn’t even object too much, massive improvement from only two gentle trims.
    I’m also using it on my nails when he’s perched near me so he’ll think of it as something normal. Jo

  12. avatar

    Hi Jo,

    Thanks very much for the feedback and great idea. Tiny dremel heads are not always easy to find…I think the battery operated nail files will be especially good for smaller birds. Quieter too..and getting the bird used to the sound, etc. as you do, is very useful.

    Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  13. avatar

    Thanks for the interesting information. We loved waking up to the sound ofmthesengreat birds when living in Sydney, NSW.

    Do you know if there has ever been an attempt to introduce the species to North America,,and if so where? Would they be likely to survive in any of our climates?

  14. avatar

    Hi Paul,

    Must be great living within their natural range…I hope to see them in the wild in the future. Exotic birds cannot legally be introduced to the USA (or Australia),There are many foreign species established here, however, most notably various parrots in Fla, Ca and elsewhere; sightings of apparent escapees (Kookaburras) from captivity are sometime reported in California, but they are not established there. Best, frank

  15. avatar

    are they legal pets in California? I would love to get one as a pet, but as you know, everything is illegal in Cali. I just haven’t been able to find information if they are legal or not. please reply soon!

  16. avatar


    They are not specifically out-lawed (see here) bit best to contact CA Fish and Game as the laws are subject to frequent revision. Good luck, pl keep me posted, Frank

  17. avatar
    Susan Williams

    I have been searching for a kookaburra with limited results. I didn’t see any listed with Birds Express, and only 3 listed on on Softbills for Sale. Of those listed, I cannot locate any information on the internet about the breeders. What are you thoughts about the limited number of breeders advertising, purchasing over the internet, and reputation of breeders listed on Softbills for Sale? Surely, if they were selling puppies these would be huge red flags.


  18. avatar


    I do not have any experience with the breeders listed, but breeding such birds is quite specialized, and limited, so the lack of reviews etc is not unusual. A breeder would almost by necessity be well-experienced etc, due to the nature of the birds, but of course you should check,. Local bird clubs, bird interest groups etc near where the breeder is located would be the best possible source of info. Zoos sometimes purchase from private breeders as well, so that would be worth looking into. Good luck, best, Frank

  19. avatar

    I am interested in the ownership of a large, intelligent bird, preferably one that I can have a relationship with and interact with on a daily basis. I love crows, and recently rescued one from being eaten (though it had to be put down, due to an old wing injury – I took it to the vet) However, I have never considered Kookaburras. I really don’t know much about them, compared to crows. However, I am willing to learn. Where should I start?
    Also, I’m a bit young, so I haven’t got my own place yet, (I’m working on it) so in the meantime, what should I look for as a good place to keep a large carnivorous bird? Obviously not an apartment… or at least, not a small one.
    And lastly, I’ve found a couple places that sell Crows, Ravens, and various combinations thereof, however, they are all rather expensive. Do you know where I can find a breeder that sells for LESS than a thousand dollars? Preferably somewhere below five hundred. I need to save the rest of my money for feeding it!
    Thank you for your help, in advance. You sound like a very responsible person, and your advice is very good. I read all the comments. So, if you don’t mind answering an ignorant child’s questions, I could use a little help.
    Thank you very much!

  20. avatar

    Hello Roxil,

    Thank you for the kind words and interesting questions. It’s admirable that you are doing the research beforehand…many folks do not.

    Captive bred crows and related birds are always very expensive…kookaburras even more so. They sometimes appear on the following sites: http://www.birdsexpress.net/ and http://www.softbillsforsale.com/softbills-sale.asp.

    Often the best way to become involved with native birds is to be licensed as a wildlife rehabilitator. Please see this article and let me know if you need more info. And you may want to consider a career working with animals…my story is here .

    Larger birds generally need outdoor accommodations plus an indoor area for tropical species. Many can be quite loud, so neighbors and family are a consideration.

    Starlings , being non-native to the USA, are not protected and can make great pets (can also learn to repeat words!), they are legal to keep in many states, but they also need lots of room. Please see this article.

    Very glad to see your interest, and that you are approaching this in a responsible manner. Please keep me posted,

    Best regards, Frank

  21. avatar

    Are kookaburra legal in Massachusetts

  22. avatar


    I’m not familiar with MA laws…please check the MA Dept of Fish and Game/Wildlife for details, and please let me know if you need info on care, etc. best, Frank

  23. avatar

    What websites can i buy a kookaburra at? Thanks, Jamie

  24. avatar

    Hello Jamie,

    They are not often available, but keep your eye on the 2 sites linked below; check also for private breeders via a Google search, as there are some who may not use those sites: http://www.birdsexpress.net/ http://www.softbillsforsale.com/softbills-sale.asp Best. frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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